THE South Downs defies human intervention.

Its exhilarating swoops and drops are a Cenozoic era roller-coaster ride.

Farms hang on to the slopes like rodeo riders on the wildest bronco. The rest of us gather at the edges or nestle in its folds, powerless.

But there was one man who, more than any other, managed to leave a mark, not to compete but to carve out small spaces for a different kind of beauty. And this spring I think we should pay homage to him.

Three hundred years ago this year, Lancelot “Capability” Brown was born, and some right-thinking people have launched a series of celebrations to highlight his impact on Albion’s green and pleasant land.

And what a mark it was. Sheffield Park, Stansted, Burton Park, Compton Place, Uppark, Brightling, Petworth and Ashburnham Place all have the stamp of Capability on them.

At one point or another we have all wandered in the gardens of these Sussex stately homes, lost ourselves amid the sights and smells for a while and been rejuvenated.

Had we looked closely we could probably have seen the ghost of Capability waving its hands about, pointing hither and yon, ordering the armies of besmocked labourers into battle as they fought to impose order on riotous nature.

For that is Capability’s legacy. He was the godfather of the formal garden, one of the pillars of what it means to be in England.

Elegance, coherence, geometric lines, sparkling lakes, garden and parkland merging into one; these were the hallmarks of Brown. His landscapes appear to go on forever, always reaching to the horizon.

He imposed a sense of place on everything he touched. None of the above gardens are the same; all complement the homes they surround, starting with herbs, flower beds, ponds, rose-walks, topiary, rippling out to meadow and on to rolling pasture.

Brown was lucky. He worked in an age of patronage, of landed gentry one-upmanship, not so much keeping up with the Joneses but besting the Darcy-Mandevilles next door – or should I say a day’s ride away.

We have to put aside our prejudices when we appraise Capability’s work. Forget that he worked for a bunch of inbred land-grabbing King’s favourites given estates for dodgy deeds. And forget that they have been kept for successive generations through arcane tax arrangements that make our prime minister’s dad look like a Marxist.

We have to accept that without this patronage there would be no breathtaking beauty for us to marvel at while we doff our caps in gratitude at actually being allowed.

Protestant work ethic does not do justice to Capability’s capacity to change the landscape. Hundreds of gardens were transformed under him. Hundreds more probably have his stamp on them.

Sometimes he even asked an incredulous patron to give him what he thought the work was worth. How about a princely £200 for the Burton Park estate in Duncton, West Sussex, in 1756? What would it be worth today?

Capability never recognised the nickname but it was given to him because he would never turn down a challenge.

A garden always had potential, “capability”, in his eyes. He did as much as Turner, Constable and Shakespeare to define what people think about when they think of the English.

He died in 1783 nowhere near as wealthy as he should have been and exhausted from the work. I urge you to visit one of his Sussex “temples” this spring as the flowers begin to bloom and the sun picks out his clever contours. You will be walking in the footsteps of genius.

The Argus:

Some genius from Highways with a paint brush and a pot of white has only gone and messed up the Shoreham turn off from the A27. You know the one? The road that spirals around like a helter-skelter.

Up until recently there were two lanes for each turn-off meaning that at rush hour traffic coming off at Shoreham from Brighton could get in different lanes depending on where you were going.

The traffic flowed perfectly well. Not any more. The paint brush has reduced two lanes to one lane and the traffic now backs up on the A27 causing more delays for the harassed South Coast motorist.

I sometimes try to imagine myself in the meeting that decided on this move.

But for the life of me, beyond perhaps a job-creation scheme for a painter decorator, I can’t fathom the motivation.